“Achieving Peace and Security for the Jewish People”
(updated and revised from Bechukotai 5765-2005)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Bechukotai, we encounter the first of the two תּוֹכָחוֹת–tochachot, portions of the Torah in which G-d reproves the people of Israel for their transgressions. In both parashat Bechukotai, Leviticus 26:27-46, and parashat Kee Tavo, Deuteronomy 28:15-69, the evils that are predicted to befall the people of Israel for not following G-d’s directives are terrifying. The only comforting aspect regarding both of these ominous portions is that they are each preceded by generous blessings that G-d will bestow upon the Jewish people for following His commandments.

Parashat Bechukotai opens with the most glorious blessings for rain and abundant harvest, for peace and tranquility, for material wealth and for the promise of G-d’s presence to dwell among His people.

Given the seemingly perpetual state of embattlement of the people of Israel, the predictions of peace that are found in this parasha are particularly worthy of our attention. The Torah, in Leviticus 26:6, G-d promises: וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ, וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד, that I [G-d] will provide peace in the land, and that My people will lie down with none to frighten them. G-d will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and the sword will not cross the land of Israel. The Jews will chase away their enemies, who will fall before them by the sword. In fact, five Israelites will chase away one hundred enemies, and one hundred Israelites will chase away ten thousand enemies.

Jewish history is often perceived, unfortunately, with great justification, as one unending series of tragedies, pogroms, expulsions, inquisitions, crusades, destructions, exiles and, ultimately, the holocaust. As we say each year at the Passover seder: בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, In every single generation they [the enemies of Israel] rise up and try to destroy us. Our generation, that has experienced both the cataclysmic Holocaust and the exhilarating rise of the State of Israel, bears witness to the fact that there appears to be no rest for the weary. Today again, the State of Israel is besieged and beleaguered and subjected to constant vilification and condemnation, for the grave sin of attempting to provide basic security and protection for its citizens.

Are we, the Jewish people, destined to live this way eternally? Is there no antidote or formula for achieving peace for our nation?

Thank G-d, there is a formula, and it is spelled out clearly in the first verse of this week’s Torah portion. Leviticus 26:3 reads: אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ, וְאֶת מִצְוֺתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם If the Jewish people will follow G-d’s decrees and observe G-d’s commandments and perform them, then G-d will bless His people with all good, and will provide peace in the land.

If we look at the long and painful history of the Jewish people, we will clearly see that there has really never been a period of peace for our people without a concomitant return to G-d. Of course, political leaders must pursue all diplomatic means and efforts to achieve peace, but the true source of peace for the Jews is clearly the peoples’ relationship with G-d.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah (c. 650-c. 570 BCE), the evil came from the “North.” Nebuchadnezer and his powerful Babylonian legions were threatening to wreak havoc upon the people of Judah. Looking for a means to defend themselves against this mighty force, the rulers of Judah sought to establish alliances with the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Jeremiah rails against these alliances, and cries out (Jeremiah 2:18): “And now, what have you to do on the road to Egypt, to drink the waters of Shichor (the Nile)? And, what have you to do on the way to Assyria, to drink the waters of the River (the Euphrates)?” Israel’s salvation, says Jeremiah, lies only in the peoples’ return to G-d. And, so, it is in our day as well.

I’ve often wondered why the Camp David peace agreement with Egypt, (September 1978), was concluded between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. After all, Menachem Begin was the hardline Revisionist Zionist, who believed that even the East Bank of the Jordan belonged to Israel. Why wasn’t peace concluded with Golda Meir or Levi Eshkol, who were far more conciliatory? I believe that it is directly attributable to the fact that Menachem Begin was the first Prime Minister since the founding of the State of Israel to utter those fateful words that “with the help of G-d we will achieve peace.” Menachem Begin opened the door for G-d just a bit, inviting Him to play a role in achieving peace, and G-d responded generously.

More recently, it looked, for a while, as if  peace with the Arabs was becoming more of a reality. The US embassy was moved to Jerusalem and Israeli sovereignty was recognized over the Golan Heights. Four Arab countries signed the Abraham Accords, and even Saudi Arabia was considering joining. It seemed as if the Messianic times were at hand!

But, then pernicious wanton hatred erupted between the citizens of Israel over judicial reform, resulting in massive, and, at times, violent street demonstrations. A group of secular Jews busted up the public Yom Kippur services in Tel Aviv. Only the brutal attack of October 7th stopped an almost-certain civil war. On the other hand, open miracles have occurred almost every day with the interception of over 14,000 murderous missiles launched at Israel since October 7th.

Let the diplomats continue to ply their diplomacy, let the negotiators continue to negotiate, but the real source of peace for our People is, and will be, based upon our peoples’ relationship with the Al-mighty. If we Jews will only follow G-d’s directives, and faithfully observe and perform G-d’s commandments, then infinite blessing will be ours, and we will soon be able to lie down in peace, and none will disturb us.

May you be blessed.